What’s Best for Kids in Tennessee?

There are more than 443,000 children in the foster care system across the country and about 1,300 of those children live in Tennessee. For some of these children, foster homes are needed until they can return to their families. For others, adoption is the long-term goal.  And yet, there is a constant shortage of qualified families who step forward to welcome a foster or adoptive child in their homes.

Yet, lawmakers in Tennessee are currently considering legislation that would overlook the best interest of these children and instead allow state-contracted agencies to discriminate in choosing which families for placement. This legislation would harm the most vulnerable children in the state by limiting the families who could provide loving homes to them, simply because of who they are. Check out the Tennessee Equality Project for more information and ways to take action.

An ad, re-released and updated for 2019, from MAP, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), entitled “Kids Pay the Price,” vividly depicts the kinds of harms children can face when agencies and workers are allowed to prioritize their individual beliefs over the best interests of children. In the ad, a social worker is depicted saying she would rather keep a child in foster care than allow her to be adopted by a qualified gay or lesbian couple; a child placement worker says that her agency has strict beliefs, and if parents are Jewish, she shouldn’t have to place kids in those homes; and a placement worker says he shouldn’t have to place children in homes that don’t share his belief in “spare the rod, spoil the child.”

Tennessee isn’t alone in considering this type of action. Recent events have reached a crisis point, with an increasing number of states and even the federal government permitting taxpayer-funded discrimination at the expense of vulnerable children who need safe and loving homes.

Most recently:

  • In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted an exemption to the state of South Carolina to allow it to contract with agencies that refuse to consider families who do not meet a religious litmus test set by the agency. This waiver was precipitated by an agency that had turned away Jewish and Catholic perspective parents because they didn’t meet the agency’s Evangelical Christian standard.
  • Last year, three states passed legislation allowing agencies to discriminate.
  • A line item in the 2020 budget proposed by the Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services states that the agency will allow child welfare programs to discriminate based on religious beliefs, following the issuance of the waiver to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries.

There is good news, however. Last month, the State of Michigan, in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a lesbian couple turned away by state-contracted agencies, agreed to enforce nondiscrimination provisions in state child welfare contracts and to not permit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, and other characteristics. This brings the number of states that permit taxpayer-funded discrimination to eight (though two more states, Michigan and Alabama, permit discrimination by agencies that do not receive state contracts).

As Christine James-Brown, CEO and President of CWLA, explains at the end of the ad, “We have laws governing child services agencies for a reason,” James-Brown says in the ad. “When states allow adoption decisions to be based on a worker’s individual beliefs, rather than the best interests of children, it’s children who pay the price.”

 

Voices of Rural LGBT America: A Queer Latina Living in Rural Michigan

Stefani has lived in rural areas in both Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and the heavily-rural Upper Peninsula. From a young age, Stefani struggled with physical symptoms that doctors struggled to diagnose. In her rural town outside of Traverse City, the physicians she went to in search of support dismissed these symptoms as related to her weight or potential anxiety.

“When the doctors are uncomfortable with your body and who you are, they speak from that place of discomfort rather than medical knowledge,” she said.

In light of such invalidating and ineffective medical care, Stefani coped with her symptoms for years until moving to the Upper Peninsula for college. When she sought medical help again, the student center doctors believed her, but referred her to specialists outside the university system. Stefani recalls, “the specialists couldn’t get over the fact that I was queer, let alone fat, let alone Latina. All of which prevented them from seeing me as a serious patient with serious symptoms.” Again, the doctors attributed her symptoms to her weight, or dismissed them as anxiety attacks. One doctor even told her, “women have these attacks.”

Eventually, Stefani’s mom, who had extensive experience navigating the medical system after working as a medical interpreter for migrant workers, drove over eight hours to go with her daughter to the doctor.

“Just having her as a validator of my experiences was so important. If I wouldn’t have had that back up, I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten my diagnosis. But I had the privilege of her experiences, and her ability to make that trip for me. I really believe I would’ve had a different experience in a non-rural environment because I could’ve gone to a different doctor who believed me. …It’s just like any rural place: we don’t have enough access to health care outside of the big cities.”

Even in the largest city in the region, Stefani points out, “there are extremely few specialists, so you’re stuck with them unless you can afford to travel. And, even when you find an accepting doctor, they may have never knowingly treated an LGBT patient. So, you end up having to educate your own doctor about how they need to treat you.”

While Stefani’s experiences in rural settings include these stories of discrimination and poor treatment, she says she ultimately loves living in rural Michigan. LGBT people living in rural communities have many positive experiences and reasons for living where they live–whether because it’s where they grew up or their families live; because they seek a closer connection to nature; or because they moved there for a job opportunity. Stefani moved to the Upper Peninsula for college and chose to stay there because she loved it.

“What I like definitely outweighs the negative experiences that I’ve had. This is my ninth year here and I wouldn’t still be living in a rural environment if it didn’t call to me. My parents live in Detroit and I could easily move there if I wanted. My work as an activist is most needed in this place. I can find really enriching opportunities to help people who don’t have access to any formalized resources. The rural LGBT community that gets built is so strong and so resilient and really willing to come together and be supportive in ways I haven’t found as much in big cities. Here, they really show up for you.”

Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America, the latest report from MAP, released in partnership with the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, seeks to raise the visibility of LGBT people living in rural America. And while the report documents key challenges facing LGBT people, including lack of vital legal protections and meaningful political representation, it also showcases the joys and rewards of living in rural America for LGBT people and their families.

Voices of Rural LGBT America: One Dad’s Story of Looking for Work in Montana

Last week, MAP published a comprehensive look at the lives of LGBT people living in rural America. Released in partnership with the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America highlights both the joys and challenges of rural LGBT people in many areas of life.

Integral to understanding – and then advocating for – the lives of rural LGBT people is hearing their stories.

Bert lives with his husband, Dan, in Miles City, Montana, a town with a population of 8,483. Bert’s story highlights the extent to which employment options can be limited, particularly for LGBT people, in rural communities because of discrimination and the lack of employment protections.

After losing his job close to home, Bert applied to a job 70 miles away at St. Labre Indian School, a private Catholic high school serving children from neighboring Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations. As both a Catholic and a Blackfeet Native American, Bert felt this was a natural fit, and that he and Dan would figure out a way to make the long commute work. He excitedly accepted the well-paying job when the school offered it to him.

But when Bert looked for housing at the school, in case bad weather ever meant he needed to stay nearby rather than make the long drive home to his family, he mentioned his husband and children to the St. Labre employee showing him available housing. A few days later, Bert received a call from the school’s administrator, asking him to come speak with the entire school board.

“Are you a practicing homosexual?” the board asked Bert. “Why didn’t you mention this when we asked in your interview if you lived by Catholic values?” they asked. Bert explains what happened next: “I live my life by the morals and values I was taught in Catholic school, so of course I answered truthfully that I live by Catholic values. I didn’t think this was a problem.” The school rescinded the job offer, leaving Bert without a job to provide for his family.  Eventually he found another job, but for considerably less pay than what St. Labre had offered.

LGBT people in rural areas shouldn’t have to choose between living in communities where they have supportive family and friends and deep roots, and providing for themselves and their families.

Yet, because the United States lacks comprehensive, explicit federal protections for LGBT people at work, and because rural states are far less likely to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in employment, housing, public accommodations and more, this is a choice that many LGBT people are forced to make, particularly because there may be fewer job opportunities and they may have to travel a farther distance to find work.

Ensuring that all people can live and thrive in the communities big and small requires action by lawmakers and advocacy and support on the part of businesses, communities, and allies. Learn more about LGBT people’s experiences in rural America in this new report from MAP and what can be done to advance equality across the country.

NEW REPORT: Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America

Popular culture images of LGBT people suggest that most LGBT people live in cities or on the coasts. Yet 2.9 – 3.8 million LGBT people call rural America home.

Today, the Movement Advancement Project released a new report, Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America, which examines the structural differences in rural life and their unique impact on LGBT people in rural areas, who are both more vulnerable to discrimination and less able to respond to its harmful effects. Among other challenges, rural LGBT people are less likely to have explicit nondiscrimination protections, are more likely to live in areas with religious exemption laws that may allow service providers to discriminate, and have fewer alternatives when facing discrimination, as detailed in a new report released today.

Click here to read the exclusive USA Today article about the report.

Although LGBT people in rural areas face many of the same challenges as their neighbors, they experience different consequences, and the many structural challenges of living in rural communities can often amplify LGBT people’s experiences of both acceptance and rejection. The report findings include that:

  • The interconnectedness of rural communities leads to ripple effectsacross many aspects of life. For example, if a person is excluded from their faith community for being gay, they may have a difficult time at work or finding a job, because their church members may also be their coworkers or potential employers. Conversely, if a rural church community or employer takes a supportive stand for local LGBT residents, that support can also ripple outward to other areas of life.
  • When LGBT people (and particularly LGBT people of color) in rural areas do face discrimination, they may have no or fewer alternatives to find a restaurant, doctor, job, home, faith community, and more. And, more service providers in rural areas are religiously-affiliated and are covered under religious exemption laws that may allow them to discriminate, even when providing public services.
  • LGBT people in rural areas are more vulnerable to discrimination. Rural areas are more likely to lack explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people and more likely to have laws allowing religious service providers to turn LGBT people away.

Click here to view infographics pulled from Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America

LGBT people live in rural areas for the same reasons as other people, such as love of family, the strength of tight-knit rural communities, and connection to the land. However, the social and political landscape of rural America means that rural LGBT people are more vulnerable to discrimination. This is why nondiscrimination laws are vital, so that rural LGBT people don’t have to choose between basic protections and the place they call home.

The report is released in partnership with the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

TAKE ACTION:

Why Visibility and Acceptance Matter for Trans People

March 31 is Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual day dedicated to raising up the voices and victories of transgender and gender nonconforming people around the world. First celebrated in 2009, TDOV has always been a critical component of advancing full equality for the entire LGBT community.

In recent years, trans folks’ visibility has increased dramatically in politics, pop culture, and beyond. However, despite growing mainstream awareness of who transgender people are, trans folks, and particularly transgender women and transgender people of color, still face enormous barriers to their safety, health, and well-being.

Here are just a few troubling statistics:

  • The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that, among transgender people who had ever lost a job, 30% had lost their job because of their gender identity or expression.
  • In the past year alone, among transgender people who visited a place of public accommodation and staff knew or thought they were transgender, 31% experienced some or multiple kinds of discrimination or mistreatment, including 24% who were verbally harassed, 14% of respondents who were denied equal treatment or service, and 2% who were physically attacked because they were transgender.
  • Transgender youth are disproportionately more likely to experience homelessness, experience discrimination and bullying in schools, suffer from depression, and experience suicidal ideation, and these risks are exacerbated the more transgender young people experience rejection.
  • Bisexual and pansexual transgender respondents were more likely to live in poverty than were gay, lesbian, and heterosexual transgender people.
  • Nearly half (48%) of transgender older adults live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
  • 17 states require proof of surgery in order to change gender marker on their birth certificate, and three states don’t allow any amendments to the gender marker at all.

That’s why visibility matters.

Research shows that only 21% of all Americans report having a close friend

or family member who is transgender, compared to 70% who have a gay or lesbian friend or family member. Among rural residents, only 15% report having a transgender person who is close to them.

It can be hard to understand what it means to be transgender, especially if you’ve never met a transgender person. But when people have a transgender friend or family member, they are much more likely to support the policies and priorities trans folks need to be healthy and thrive: from accessing comprehensive and competent healthcare, to having safe and supportive school environments.

Most recently, MAP partnered with the Biden Foundation, and Gender Spectrum to launch “Advancing Acceptance” to raise awareness of the importance of family and community acceptance in the lives of transgender and gender diverse youth. According to the Biden Foundation, when parents and families accept and embrace their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) child, that acceptance dramatically improves their child’s self-esteem and decreases the likelihood they will experience depression or suicidal ideation, or engage in self-harming behaviors. And research shows that, when transgender youth are accepted and affirmed at home, in school, and in their communities, they experience greatly reduced anxiety and depression, and greatly improved self-esteem, academic success, and happiness.

And visibility is more than just asking transgender people to make themselves more visible (and potentially more vulnerable to discrimination as a result). Amid an increasingly hostile political environment, it’s also imperative to raise visibility of acceptance of transgender people, both to provide role models for non-transgender people to learn how best to support trans people, and to provide transgender and nonbinary people with visible reminders that they are loved and not alone.

To find out what you can do to improve visibility in your community, visit Advancing Acceptance’s Community Resources. Click here for additional resources that offer an overview into the lives of transgender people, maps and reports about the legal landscape and the impact on transgender youth and adults, and the threat of religious exemptions to the health and wellbeing of transgender people.

1,300 Businesses Across Florida Declare They Are “Open to All”

Today, nearly 1,300 businesses across Florida are joining Open to All, the national public education campaign that unites leaders in business, civic engagement, and the nonprofit sector across the United States to raise awareness of the importance of protecting everyone from nondiscrimination and to defend the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All.

Members of the Florida-based coalition Open Doors (Puertas Abiertas), declared that they are Open to All, and pledged to not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, national origin, age, immigration status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion or disability.

Open Doors, a project of Equality Florida,is a bilingual, mobile-friendly Florida business directory open to businesses, faith organizations, and other venues with strong nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT protections. The directory makes it easier for residents and visitors alike to seek out places they can be assured will welcome and respect them and their families.

By joining Open to All, these businesses are taking a stand, not just against discrimination against LGBT people, but by publicly committing to serve everyone on equal terms, regardless of who they are. This partnership also brings national visibility to Florida’s businesses and strengthens efforts in the state to support diversity and inclusion. Businesses who take the Open to All business pledge are featured publicly on the Open to All website.

Included among the 1,300 businesses joining Open to All today are Gap Inc. stores across the state. Last October, Gap Inc. announced it was signing the Open to All business pledge and urging other business leaders across the nation to add their voices and declare they are Open to All. Gap Inc. stores include Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and Intermix, with over 140 stores in Florida, Gap’s third largest market.

Last week the city of San Francisco became the first city to issue an official proclamation declaring it is Open to All. Mayor London Breed called upon businesses across the city to sign the business pledge and take a stand against discrimination. She also urged cities across the country to take similar action and proclaim that they are Open to all.

With your support, Open to All can reach even more businesses in cities and states across the country and ask them to take a stand against discrimination!

TAKE ACTION

The Open to All campaign was developed by and is a project of the Movement Advancement Project.

 

San Francisco Proclaims It’s “Open to All!”

Today San Francisco became the first city to issue an official proclamation declaring it is Open to All. Open to All is the nationwide public engagement campaign to build understanding and discussion about the importance of protecting people from discrimination—and the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All.

Check out some of the photos from today’s event.

By joining Open to All, San Francisco is continuing its leadership in diversity and inclusion by pledging to welcome everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, immigration status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion or disability.

Click here to read Mayor London Breed’s op-ed about why San Francisco is joining Open to All.

To commemorate the occasion, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Mandelman hosted a kick-off event in Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco featuring elected officials from across the city, community leaders, and business owners who have signed the Open to All business pledge.

Mayor Breed called upon businesses across the city to sign the business pledge and take a stand against discrimination. She also urged cities across the country to take similar action and proclaim that they are Open to all.

TAKE ACTION:

 

March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month

Did you know?

More women identify as bisexual than men, and people of color are more likely than white people to identify as bisexual.

Bisexual people comprise more than half of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population.

Bisexual people live in every state and are ethnically and racially diverse.

Bisexual older adults are less likely to be out.

Did you also know?

Violence, poverty, discrimination, and poor physical and mental health outcomes within the bisexual population are often at higher rates than their lesbian and gay peers.

All too often, bisexual people are swept into the greater lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) community, their specific disparities made invisible within data about the whole community.

That’s why, each March, MAP joins our colleagues at the Bisexual Resource Center to commemorate Bisexual Health Awareness Month to share critical information, resources, and recommendations to raise awareness and support the health and well-being of bisexual people everywhere.

By shining a spotlight on the specific health needs and unique challenges facing bisexual people when accessing healthcare, we can improve outcomes for bisexual people and their families.

TAKE ACTION:

Monthly Equality Maps Update: Big Progress for LGBT People

January 2019 was a big month for LGBT people and advocates around the country, as the new legislative session began and multiple states added new protections for LGBT residents. MAP tracks these and many other LGBT-related laws and policies in our Equality Maps, and we update the maps whenever a policy changes. Bookmark our Equality Maps page to stay up-to-date on the laws and policies that impact LGBT people and their families.

This past month alone, five states added or strengthened their LGBT nondiscrimination laws. The newly-elected governors of Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin all issued executive orders or directives that protected LGBT state employees against discrimination. Additionally, the state of New York passed GENDA, which formally (and finally!) includes gender identity in nondiscrimination law covering employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. Click here for MAP’s State Nondiscrimination Laws maps.

New York and North Carolina also expanded LGBT protections in other areas. New York added gender identity to its hate crimes law, and further passed a law restricting conversion therapy against minors. Click here to see where your city or state stands on banning conversion therapy for minors. North Carolina updated its process for changing gender markers on driver’s licenses, removing the surgery requirement and significantly improving the ability of trans folks to get accurate IDs. The newly simplified form is available here. What are the ID laws like in your state? Click here to find out!

At the local level, Cudahy, Wisconsin passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors, while Beckley, West Virginia became the 13th town in West Virginia with an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance covering employment, housing, and public accommodations. Merriam, Kansas became the 7th town in Kansas with a similar ordinance. Is your city covered? Find out on our Local Nondiscrimination Ordinances map.

Congratulations and gratitude to the advocates, volunteers, and allies around the country and on the ground who have been working for years to ensure this critical progress is made.

To stay up to date with the latest LGBT laws and policies at the state and local level, consult MAP’s Equality Maps and subscribe to this blog for our monthly updates moving forward.

Advancing Acceptance Q & A: How two families supported Xander through his transition

Parents, family and friends of transgender youth can play a vital role in providing guidance to others who know or believe their child might be transgender—and that’s where this guide comes in. Hear from the Berman-Ruth and Wylie families discussing how they have supported their son, Xander, a transgender boy, through his transition. Learn more at www.advancingacceptance.org and watch the video “Journeys: The Berman-Ruth & Wylie Families” here.

Your son, Xander, is transgender. At what point did you first notice he identified as a boy, even though you thought you were raising a daughter?

When Xander was four, he asked for a haircut. He had long, beautiful blond hair at that time. I brought him to a salon and they gave him a bob. When they finished, and he looked sad, I said, “Do you want bangs?”  They gave him bangs and then they spun him around in the chair and he had started to cry. He said, “Like a boy.” I told them to cut it short and he was so happy. His haircut was kind of like Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby. He looked great, and it gave me an early sense that life as a boy just made so much more sense to him. 

 What are some ways you’ve supported Xander over the years?

We believe it starts with acceptance and trying to put ourselves in his shoes—and often. Not just in elementary school, but during all those life events and into the future. Also, we’ve found that parental advice, with openness, goes a long way to address life challenges. Oh—and a sense of humor!

We’ve supported Xander in his kung fu—he is now a second degree black belt. We encourage his friendships and support him in all of the day-to-day trials and tribulations he goes thru—both as transgender and just being a teenage boy. And we support him in his interests, like going to see live music, watching movies together as a family, getting the books he wants, etc.

 In what specific ways did you support Xander’s gender expression?

As parents the first step is accepting and actively taking part in a child’s gender expression. First by creating a safe space from which to learn and express oneself. This is as much a truth in first grade as it is today. For Xander, in particular, providing the space and openness to him wearing boys clothes, become a black belt, coaching him on little things like a more masculine handshake, haircut and body language tips. 

What kinds of activities do you do as a family?

We do the same activities as most families. We go camping with friends, go out to dinner, have family movie nights. We have also become more politically active, like being politically aware of issues that affect LGBTQ people and the candidates that support our family values of loving, caring openness and equality.    

 How did you navigate extended family relationships to make it safe for Xander to come out?

When Xander was 13, he was concerned how his grandfather felt about the fact that he is transgender—in particular, the fact that his grandfather was not referring to Xander with male pronouns. We reassured Xander. But in the end, I recommended that he should write his grandfather a letter sharing with him his journey and wishes. It was a very understanding, beautiful letter Xander wrote, and today they have a wonderful relationship. Eli still gets frustrated with himself when he messes up pronouns sometimes, and Xander is very understanding. He really appreciates the effort, and they have had good conversations between the two of them. It’s a good lesson for advocating and owning one’s identity and journey.  

 How supportive has Xander’s school been?

Excellent! They were unconditionally helpful. We worked with the school very closely over a series of meetings with teachers and administration for the school. The administration informed all his teachers and ensured he could use the same school facilities as other boys. In fact, it was one of Xander’s teachers who initially suggested that we have his name legally changed; someone had accidently called him by the wrong name, and the teacher saw first-hand how Xander’s heart sank. Overall they’ve been incredibly supportive.

How do you build community for your family?

A lot of it is about enabling both of our kids to have their friends over and by keeping in close touch with our adult friends. The Wileys (Mike and Margaret) are like second parents to Xander and Zuni—and we feel that we are for Lucas as well.

 Has Xander ever been mistreated because of his gender identity?

Yes. In elementary school Xander was bullied by two classmates. The school used the opportunity to provide transgender awareness and anti-bullying discussions for the kids. We also talked to the parents to help them understand what happened. 

 What are your hopes and dreams for Xander as he finishes high school?

Good grades, acceptance into a good college media program (which is his dream), the unfettered continuation of his journey—personal, social, career, love, and identity. 

 Any final thoughts?

We are so proud of our son. He is compassionate, thoughtful, kind, intelligent, is passionate about life, is an incredibly good and loyal friend, and a wonderful human being! We’re most proud of how he balances on the one hand advocating for himself and his identity, while being very compassionate and understanding of friends and family as we all learn together.